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Positional Utility Updates - McE 2.0 And More

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Last week, I posted an article in which I created a stat meant to encapsulate a player's positional utility. I want to eventually find a way to value the ability to play multiple positions, but for now I'm just working to create something that shows how many positions a given player plays during the baseball season. The stat is called McEwing Score (or McE), and the basics can be gleaned here if you like.

Today, I'd like to show the new, improved version of McE, which does the same thing in a little bit more elegant fashion, I think. In addition, I have a couple of interesting tidbits about teams in 2011 that saw high McE performers, as well as a couple of historical position flexibility oddities.

Improvements to McE

Tom Tango was good enough to brainstorm a number of ways to improve McEwing Score, and my favorite idea of his is to change the McE adjustments as shown in the list below. Keep in mind, the other factors in the creation of McE are staying the same, including the two-game rule and the combination of RF and LF. The new adjustments are:

  • +19 for C
  • +17 for SS
  • +15 for 2B / 3B / CF
  • +11 for RF and LF
  • +9 for 1B
  • This does a lot of things for McE. Here's a laundry list of what the change means:

    (1) There's no more use of decimals. Hooray!

    (2) The new scale for any multi-position player is now between 20 and 101. If a player has a score of 20 or above, you know that they've played two (or more) positions in the year. McE maxes out at 101, which has only been done once in MLB history, and I'll talk a little more about that later.

    (3) This poses a substantive change to many players' relative McE scores, as the score becomes more weighted towards players that play a higher number of positions, rather than the players who play the more challenging / valuable positions. To wit: let's look at the cases of Brent Lillibridge and Omar Vizquel, both of whom played for the Chicago White Sox in 2011. Vizquel falls into the category of "Typical Utility Infielder" because he logged time at 2B, 3B and SS last season. That was good for a 6.5 McE under the old system, but changes to a score of 47 under the new system. Lillibridge played more positions than Vizquel, as he spent time at 1B, 2B and all three outfield spots. Under the old system, that would be worth only 5.5 McE, primarily due to the low scoring for the corner outfield and 1B points. Yet under the new system, Lillibridge earns a total of 50 points, as each additional position comes with more of a "bonus." Except under a few dramatic exceptions (and I'll actually talk about them a little later on), every player who plays four positions will score higher than any and all players who play three positions. The same is true of comparisons of three-to-two positions.

    (4) The new McE for a traditional utility infielder, a player whose roster spot is almost perfectly tied to his positional flexibility and plays 2B, SS and 3B ... now earns a score of 47. This is also Joe McEwing's uniform number in his current role as third base coach for the White Sox. This cannot possibly be a coincidence.

    With this in mind, the new version of McE is a rousing success, in my book. The player leaders in McE for 2011 are still the trifecta of Emilio Bonifacio, Mike McCoy and Michael Martinez with scores of 73 each. A total of 11 players managed McE scores above 60, all of whom played five positions in 2011.

    2011 Team McE Observations

    Here, I'd like to just throw in a bunch of observations I've made about the players who racked up McE in 2011 in a team context. You can take these for what they're worth.

    * No team had two players with an McE above 60, meaning no team had two players to play five positions (more than once) in 2011.

    * The Washington Nationals were the only team with three players to play four or more positions (more than once) in 2011. Brian Bixler had an McE of 67, while both Alex Cora and Jerry Hairston Jr. scored a 56.

    * The Nationals, Tigers, Padres, Red Sox, Rockies and Cardinals were the only teams to have two players to play four or more positions (more than once) in 2011.

    * The Philadelphia Phillies had the fewest multi-position players in 2011, with just five ballplayers spending significant time at multiple positions. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros used six players earning an McE over 20.

    * The team that used the most multi-position players, by a wide margin, was the St. Louis Cardinals. As a team, they had 17 players who spent multiple games at more than one position. Best of all, only Mark Hamilton and Yadier Molina "only" spent two games at a second position. I wonder if this is a Tony LaRussa effect.

    * The Giants had the second-most players who had an McE above 20, with 14 players logging time at multiple positions.

    * AL teams averaged about 9.8 multi-position players per team in 2011, while their NL counterparts averaged about 9.6.

    Historical Tidbits

    Ok, so I mentioned earlier that only one player in major league history ever managed a McE of 101 in a single season of play. That player is Shane Halter, who managed it in 2000 with the Detroit Tigers. And yes, of course he managed to pitch during that season as well.

    I also mentioned earlier that in most circumstances, a player who plays three positions will score higher in McE than any player who plays two positions. The only exception to this rule is that if a player plays (only) catcher and shortstop, he can score a higher McE (36) than a player who plays first base, a corner outfield position, and one of the 2B-3B-CF set of positions (35). But really, how rare is it for a player to only serve time at catcher and shortstop? Actually, it's exceptionally rare. In fact, that's only happened once as well. Cy Perkins was a catcher by trade, but spent eight games at shortstop for the 1919 Philadelphia Athletics. Perkins would go on to get MVP votes in 1922 and 1923, despite not being very good.

    More common is the player who plays three positions outscoring a player playing four positions. This one has happened a total of three times in history. Michael Barrett did it in 1999, playing catcher, shortstop and third base (McE 51) for the Expos. The only others (I've found) to do it are: Jamie Quirk (Kansas City Royals, 1979) and Bobby Bragan (Brooklyn Dodgers, 1944). All three players did it the same way, playing C, SS and 3B.

    And finally, let's talk briefly about Joe McEwing, the man for whom I named this statistic. McEwing's highest McE in a given season came in 2001 with the New York Mets. He played multiple games at every position except for catcher and pitcher multiple times, earning him an eponymous McE of 82. It was also the only season McEwing proved to be an above-average major-league hitter, earning a wRC+ of 107 on the season.